Along with Science and Beauty, Art is one of the pillars upon which Retrouvé is built. From time to time, we will shed light on an artist who inspires us deeply. For our inaugural Artist Spotlight blog, we did not have to look further than Jami’s own mother, the incomparable Georganne Aldrich Heller. – Ed.
From a very young age, both of my parents instilled in me a deep appreciation and love for the arts, which had been fostered in them similarly by their parents. My grandfather on my mother’s side of the family, Larry Aldrich, was a renowned art collector who founded The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1964. He used the museum to support many American artists early in their careers, including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Cy Twombly.
A Family Legacy
My mother, Georganne Aldrich Heller, serves as a trustee on the board of The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art and is also an accomplished artist in her own right. For the past decade, she has had numerous group exhibitions of her collage work and had a solo show at the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art in Las Vegas. One of my favorites of her recent collage work is “Love Matters,” shown here. Of my mother’s work, Peter Frank, Art Critic for L.A. Weekly, has said, “The clarity and dynamic poise of Georganne Aldrich Heller’s collages fuse dada wit with the precise, lucid balance of constructivism.”
The Irish Arts
As the president of Irish Theatre & Film Production, a company devoted to presenting the work of Irish playwrights in New York, London, and Dublin, my very talented mother received a proclamation from the Irish Consul General of New York for her outstanding contributions to Irish Theater in the US and internationally. In addition, Georganne served on the Board of Directors to The Irish Arts Center in New York, where she has worked as an independent producer with them for over two decades and was instrumental in raising funds to open their spectacular new theater in Hell’s Kitchen. Previously, she served as Cultural Director for the Borough of Manhattan.
A Conversation with My Mother
ON BEING 90
I really admire all your energy and continued work and accomplishments, Mom. It is hard to fathom that you are 90!
It’s harder for me to fathom than it would ever be for you or anyone reading this, because I feel the same as I felt when I was in my 30s and 40s!
Obviously, you still have so much creativity and so much that you still want to express. What new frontiers do you still want to conquer with your art?
I still want to produce some more plays, that goes without saying. I'll be doing a Chekhov this winter, but an Irish version of a new way to present Chekhov that has not been seen before. It was seen in Ireland but not in the U.S. But you want to know do I still want do varying things? I always want to produce, and last night, I went to a wonderful jazz concert, because I used to have a jazz club* and hearing jazz gives me some ideas for collage. There is something about that jazz – it isn't a constructed music, it’s music that is created as the player plays. If you love jazz as I do, hearing it, you can get some ideas that are fantastically visual.
*ED NOTE: Having been among the first female DJs for jazz, Georganne went on to co-found Chuck’s Composite Jazz Club in New York City, which became famous for its “Jazz at Noon” series on Fridays in the 1970s.
You have produced over 30 plays and several films and are soon to be a published author of your short stories, and you are also celebrated for your collages. What, if any, is your favorite art form of expression for yourself?
Strictly collage, I am not a painter or a person who does sketching. It's strictly collage. I also really enjoy producing.
It's all art, though. Producers are artists; writing is art.
The written word we could say is an art form and therefore, my attraction is to both and also many of my Irish plays do not stick with one particular theme, so you can sometimes view them as collage, because it is. Plays may tell you something poetic and then something off the charts that’s subconscious, and then it gets back to the action. So, in a way there is collage in the Irish plays that I like as well. “Silent” was a collage of words, and it won Pat Kilevane the Olivier Award for performance in 2018.
Who or what influenced you to become an artist? Obviously, Grandpa had an influence. His initial career was as a fashion designer – Larry Aldrich Couture – and you later had your own clothing lines, The Animated Eye and Kathleen Crawford, which was sold at Bergdorf Goodman. When or why did you start to make art?
I was greatly influenced by my father, so that's a valid thing. I was attracted to the idea of creating with collage, and I used the cut outs as my way of designing, drawing, and painting.
What did your father ever say about your artwork or any of your creations?
He never saw the artwork, but he did come in once to Kathleen Crawford to critique the line and was very complimentary, I have to say. He gave some very good basic suggestions. For example, he felt that since we were designing sportswear, we should have a lot of versatility. He said not to think of the tops without thinking of how they can be interchanged with the other pieces we created. We followed his advice, and I think that's why we were very successful.
Which artists inspire you?
Magritte was my favorite, he is a great collage artist. French painter Joseph Cornell and his famous boxes in all the museums. Gustav Klimt. Such an artist!
How did you create your first piece?
I had a friend who was a sculptor and an artist, and I would visit him a lot. He liked me to read him things either that I wrote or was interested in. He one day said, “Why don't you paint or draw?” And I said, “Because I can't.” He said that that was not true, and that the next time I came to see him, I should bring some cut out things that I thought were fun, and one of the cut out things that I brought the first time was the monkey that my father had given me as an art piece. It’s a fun-loving, wonderful monkey and I had a photo of it. I came with that and a few photos of all kinds of strange things. He instructed me to just throw them on an empty canvas and see where they fell and then to re-arrange them. He told me to add some paint. I said, “I don't know how to use paint!” So he took a paint brush and just did a lot of squiggles on a blank piece of paper. He told me to throw my own collage in the same way, and then after I threw it to try and replace it and make some kind of a form. I worked on it for a whole day. When I showed him, he said, “Look at this, you have an art piece.” I wasn’t sure about this at first, but the piece is framed and hangs in my New York apartment. Everyone who sees that piece always comments on it, and it’s the first piece I ever did.
What does art mean to you? Why is art important for you and your life or for society as a whole? What good things can art do for people?
I think living with something on your wall that has reached you spiritually, because it is a spiritual thing when you look at a painting and it registers for you, it isn't just the image - there is something about what the whole painting is doing that you absorb. It's a very spiritual thing as well as a visual thing, the same way we love to look at people who have some beautiful clothing on when we go to a fashion show and you see the models and the clothes and that does something for you seeing all this beauty. It's the same as a piece of art, but I don't think you should ever hang a piece of art that somebody just gives you that doesn’t talk to you, because you’re going to be living with it, and those messages will be coming to you and they may not be ones that you choose.
Art has an energy that resonates…
It could have a negative energy because it's not something you like, but if it had a value financially, and someone gave it to you, you could trade.
ON SELLING HER ART
You've told me that although you exhibit in galleries, you don't like to sell your pieces.
I can't sell them!
That would be the same as selling my children. The same way your child is part of you, what you create that can take you hours or days, it's not just that you put the paint on a canvas or a collage on a piece of canvas, you put your spiritual heart and soul on it, and it becomes very personal. Most artists I know love to sell, but I would rather sell furniture, my china, anything at all, but keep the collages. Luckily, all artists don't feel that way or we'd be in a deprived world.
ON LOVE AND MARRIAGE
When you were in your teens or early twenties and you thought about what you might want to do or be, did it ever occur to you that you would be an artist?
I only thought about marrying. I never thought of any career whatsoever! I'm amazed myself that as life went on, all these fabulous paths came to be, because I had no idea that I would be doing anything like this, and that’s the truth.
Is that because you were raised that way, or was just your personal goal always about marriage being the end all?
My father left when I was born, and he was the one that had all the artistic interests and values. The family that raised me had none, so I had not been exposed to anything growing up that vaguely related to art or music. I was just told that marrying is what Jewish girls do. And then I took it to another level by continuing to marry!
You did it very well mom, and continue to do it very well! Your current partner is also an artist - he's a sculptor.
Yes, that’s right.
I know you are very enthusiastic about his works.
And you both are symbiotic and supporting and helping with each other, and you are planning to do an exhibit together.
Hopefully, yes. That would be wonderful, though I would have to put aside my lack of wanting to sell when we do that, because most other people cannot understand why an artist doesn't want to sell their work! I really don't want to sell my pieces because each time I surprise myself with the work that I have created. As I said, I grew up with no understanding of art and the fact that years later, I can look at something and say “I’ve done it” is pretty amazing when I’m still not even sure how I did it!
Other than my father, you have generally gravitated toward artists and musicians in your marriages and relationships.
You mentioned once to me that it's hard for you to understand someone who doesn't relate to or have some sort of artistic passion that way and that you need that in a partner. Can you speak to that here?
I am not judgmental about it but…
No, this is just pertaining to you.
For me, if I want to read my newest installment that I am preparing for my writing class or for the book, or if I just finish a piece of art - If I can't show it to my partner and have him both appreciate what I did but also give me some meaningful comments on how I might make it better, there isn’t as much in common as if I were to show him and he were to say, “Well, that’s very nice, but what are we having for dinner,” I think that would not work for me.
ON CONTINUING TO LEARN AND GROW
You have someone who comes and gives you art lessons still.
You’re always having lessons on your writing and taking seminars and courses - I really admire how your life is a continual source of education and curiosity.
Thank you, but I feel like it's hard to grow without someone like the art teacher that has been at my side, because she's able to step back and see the pieces without being part of them. When you’re doing a piece, you’re so into it that sometimes you can’t step back and and really view it.
For more information or to contact Ms. Heller, please visit http://www.
You’ll receive an email when it’s back.